Italians Invented Rap
An excerpt from the 19th c. archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani's book, "Pagan and Christian Rome" :  


An excerpt from the 19th c. archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani's book, "Pagan and Christian Rome" :  

Proceeding two hundred yards farther, on the same side of the Via Salaria, we find the base of the tomb of the precocious boy Quintus Sulpicius Maximus, the tomb itself having been discovered in 1871, in the interior of the right tower of the Porta Salaria, while this was being rebuilt after the bombardment of September 20, 1870. The tomb had formed the core of the tower, just as that of Eurysaces, the baker, found in 1833, had been imbedded in the left tower of the Porta Praenestina.

The tomb is composed of a pedestal, built of blocks of travertine, with a marble cippus upon it, ornamented with a statue of the youth, and the story of his life told in Greek and Latin verse. The story is simple and sad.

On September 14, A.D. 95, the anniversary of his accession to the throne, Domitian opened for the third time the certamen quinquennale, a competition for the world's championship in gymnastics, equestrian sports, music, and poetry, which he had instituted at the beginning of his reign. Fifty-two competitors in Greek poetry were present. The subject, drawn by lot, was: "The words which Jupiter made use of in reproving Apollo for having trusted his chariot to Phaeton."

Quintus Sulpicius Maximus improvised, on this rather poor theme, forty-three versus extemporales. The meaning of the adjective is doubtful. We are not certain whether the boy spoke his verses extemporaneously, his words being taken down by shorthand; or whether he and his fifty-one colleagues were allowed some time to consider the subject and write the composition, as is now the practice in literary examinations. Ancient writers speak of "improvisatori" who manifested their wonderful gift at a premature age; still, it seems almost impossible that fifty-two such prodigies could have been brought together at one competition.

Sulpicius Maximus was crowned by the emperor with the Capitoline laurels and awarded the championship of the world. The verses by which he won the competition are really very good, and show a thorough knowledge of Greek prosody. The victory, however, cost him dearly; in fact, he paid for it with his life.

The following inscription was engraved on his tomb:— "To Q. Sulpicius Maximus, son of Quintus, born in Rome, and lived eleven years, five months, twelve days. He won the competition, among fifty-two Greek poets, at the third celebration of the Capitoline games. His most unhappy parents, Quintus Sulpicius Eugramus and Licinia Januaria, have caused his extemporized poem to be engraved on this tomb, to prove that in praising his talents they have not been inspired solely by their deep love for him (ne adfectibus suis indulsisse videantur)."

Let the fate of this boy be a warning to those parents who, discovering in their children a precocious inclination for some branch of human learning, encourage and force this fatal cleverness for the gratification of their own pride, instead of moderating it in accordance with the physical power and development of youth.

The world's competition, instituted by Domitian, had a long and successful career, and we can follow its celebration for many centuries, to the age of Petrarca and Tasso. An inscription discovered at Vasto, the ancient Histonium, describes the one which took place A.D. 107 in these words: "To Lucius Valerius Pudens, son of Lucius. Being only thirteen years old, he took part in the sixth certamen sacrum, near the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus; and won the championship among the Latin poets by the unanimous vote of the judges." These last words show that special jurors were appointed by the emperor for each section of the competitions. In the year 319 Constantine the Great and Licinius Caesar celebrated with great solemnity the fifty-eighth certamen. Ausonius of Burdigala, the great poet of the fourth century, speaks of an Attius Delfidius, an infant prodigy (paene ab incunabulis poeta), who gained the prize under Valentinian I. The mediaeval and Renaissance custom of "laureating" poets on the Capitol was certainly derived from Domitian's institution.

The race of the "improvvisatori" has never died out in central and southern Italy. One of the most celebrated in the sixteenth century, named Silvio Antoniano, at the age of eleven could sing to the accompaniment of his lute on any argument proposed to him, the poetry being as graceful and pleasing as the music. One day, while sitting at a state banquet in the Palazzo di Venezia, Giovanni Angelo de' Medici, one of the cardinals present, asked him if he could improvise "on the praises of the clock," the sound of which, from the belfry of the palace, had just struck his ears. The melodious song of Silvio, on such an extraordinary theme, was received with loud applause; and when Giovanni Angelo de' Medici was elected Pope in 1559, under the name of Pius IV., he raised the young poet to the rank of a cardinal in recognition of his extraordinary talent.
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Italians Invented Rap - by VoxClamantis - 03-02-2019, 12:59 AM

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